“Addy peered at the plaque on the starship’s hull. "Rich bastards. Is that real gold?" She narrowed her eyes, scrutinizing the Miyari . "Where’s all the rust and dents? I’m so confused."

Marco smiled wanly and patted her knee. "No rust. No dents. This isn’t Earth Territorial Command anymore. STC is one percent our size and has a hundred times our budget."

"Fuckers," Addy said.

Marco nodded. "We’re about to join them, remember?"

"I love them," Addy said.

A hatch above opened, and the fifty soldiers of the platoon fell silent. Near the hatch, Sergeant Singh stood up in his seat and saluted.

"Platoon—attention!" the bearded sergeant bellowed.

Fifty soldiers, all around the cylindrical fuselage, rose in their seats, held their guns to their sides, and squared their shoulders. All stood perfectly still, expressions blank. Marco dared glance toward the hatch above, and he struggled to stifle the smile that threatened to bloom.

Lieutenant Einav Ben-Ari came climbing down the ladder that ran down the center of the fuselage. The young officer had a sensible blond ponytail, solemn green eyes, and the weight of generations on her shoulders. Unlike his fellow privates, Marco had grown close to Lieutenant Ben-Ari. She had shown him the medals of her ancestor, a survivor who had fled a Nazi concentration camp to fight as a partisan. Since then, every generation of Ben-Ari’s family had fought in a war. Her great grandparents had fought the devastating wars in the Middle East. Her grandfather had fought the scum when the aliens had first destroyed the world. Her father had been a colonel in the HDF. And now she, Einav Ben-Ari—a young officer, barely into her twenties—led a platoon deep into space.

Many in the platoon, Marco knew, referred to Ben-Ari as an ice queen, as a robot, as the pampered daughter of a colonel. But Marco had spoken to her in private several times, perhaps the only soldier here who had, aside from Sergeant Singh. He had seen her fear. Her sadness. And her kindness. She was his commanding officer, but she was also his friend.

"At ease," said Ben-Ari, climbing halfway down the shaft. The platoon returned to their seats, and the lieutenant continued speaking, voice filling the fuselage. "Some of you have been soldiers for years. Others for only months. One thing you have in common—you all wear the green. You’re all soldiers of Earth Territorial Command."

"The poor ninety-nine percent," Addy whispered, leaning toward Marco. He hushed her.

"I’ve handpicked you," said Lieutenant Ben-Ari, "to join me in space, to join the STC. This is an honor. Only the best, the brightest, the toughest warriors serve in space. You all distinguished yourselves on Earth. Some of you fought at Fort Djemila. Others in the Battle of Rome. Some in the Siege of Yokohama. But here, in space, you are all green recruits—literally and figuratively. You’ve never faced horror until you’ve faced the scum in the darkness of space, on the front line."

Marco gulped and looked around him. He had fought only one battle, had slain only a handful of scum. Corporal Diaz, who sat across from him, had been fighting for over a year, had killed many enemies along the Appalachian Trail. And Sergeant Singh was even more experienced, a veteran with several years of combat under his belt. Here were strong men, armed with grenades and assault rifles. It was hard to imagine that up here the platoon was helpless.

Marco thought back to the battle at Fort Djemila. To the thousands of scum swarming. To the soldiers dying in the dust. To his friends screaming, then falling silent. Those memories still haunted him. Yet that had been only a small battle at a forgotten military training base. Now they were flying toward the very front line. Marco didn’t want to imagine what awaited them there.

"On the HDFSMiyari ," Ben-Ari continued, "our platoon will serve alongside the Latona Company, a unit of the Erebus Brigade. I don’t need to tell you, I think, anything about Erebus."”